Let’s put the brakes on ex-spouses who refuse to pay divorce settlements

The Law Commission has called for tough sanctions against former spouses who refuse to pay their ex-partners’ divorce settlements – including banning them from driving.

The Commission’s demand for penalties to be introduced to force people to adhere to a divorce court’s decision on what is a fair financial settlement comes after complaints that such court orders are frequently ignored. What’s more, those flouting the orders often get away with it, as the only penalty currently on the table is a prison sentence, which is rarely used.

The new recommendations, announced by the Law Commission late last year, include 12-month driving bans and the confiscation of passports.

Courts in England and Wales make about 90,000 family financial orders every year, and they feature in three out of four divorce cases.

The Commission is quoted as saying: ‘As the orders are made by the court to meet needs, non-compliance can have a devastating impact. Ineffective enforcement causes real hardship, results in costs to the state and undermines confidence in the legal system.’

The demand for non-payers to be punished is a very positive step towards forcing people to follow court orders. These orders are drawn up on the basis of what is fair for both parties, so if they are not adhered to, the estranged family suffers – especially if the ex-spouse (usually the wife) is poor and can’t afford the necessary legal fees to return to court.

It is well known that punishment for those who refuse to pay up is almost non-existent, which is why an increasing number of former partners flout financial orders.

Hitting them where it hurts – by taking away their driving licence or passport – would be a very effective way of ensuring the law is upheld, even in family proceedings.